September 28, 2001 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security

Terrorism Q&A with Asian Studies Center Director Dr. Larry M.Wortzel

The following is an exchange between Wortzel and Maribel Gonzalez, Washington correspondent for Mexican Grupo Reforma. The Washington Post (June 23, 200) calls Grupo Reforma "the most respected and influential newspaper group and one of the most important forces for change in Mexico."

Q: Can America defeat terrorism? How? And how long would it take?

A: Defeating terrorism will require a long-term effort; years in fact. It will take a combination of law enforcement efforts, intelligence and counterintelligence cooperation, ending the financial network that supports terrorists, attacking the bases where they train, and undermining the governments that support and assist terrorists.

Q: America's multibillion-dollar intelligence system has failed. What happened and what has to be changed? How much would it cost?

A: The intelligence system definitely failed to detect these attacks or to identify the extent of the terrorist cells. The most tragic part of this is that many agencies of the US government all knew something about what was going on, or what terrorists (or suspected terrorists) were in the US. But they were not talking to each other or sharing the information. To improve this, information must be shared and available. And more people are needed for counterintelligence and security work. It will cost not billions, but hundreds of billions of dollars.

Q: Who is in charge of the American intelligence now; the CIA or the National Security Agency? What is the role of the DIA?

A: The Director of Central Intelligence, who is also the CIA Director, is the head of the US intelligence community. The Defense Intelligence Agency is part of the intelligence community, as is the National Security Agency (which is part of the Department of Defense).

Q: What should America expect from other countries? Which countries are key for the success of an international coalition against terrorism?

A: The really key countries to a coalition against terrorism are the Islamic states that tend to provide funds and safe places for terrorists. Also, by having Islamic states as part of a coalition it makes it clear that this is not a war against Islam, but rather a war on terrorism.

Q: Is there a role to play for the Latin American countries?

A: Latin American countries can work to identify terrorist cells that operate in them, or pass through them. They can control immigration and documentation to make sure no terrorists get illegal passports. And they can help to identify and shut down financial networks.

Q: How can the U.S. try to form this international coalition against terrorism when this country has never ever ratified the international conventions against terrorism passed in the United Nations?

A: The UN allows for self-defense, and this is a defense against an attack on the United States. The US should not be forced to defend itself only when the "lowest common denominator" of policy options is dictated by an international organization, many of whose voting members are terrorist states.

Q: The President is talking about a "different kind of war". What does that mean? What are the options here?

A: This is a war that will involve covert action by special operations forces (Rangers, Special Forces, Navy Seals), law enforcement organizations, the US intelligence community, the Treasury Department, and the State Department. Careful information and public diplomacy operations will be part of it. I do not expect to see large bodies of troops based in a foreign country as we did in the Gulf War. When the US can operate as part of a coalition, or bilaterally with a friend or ally, it should do so. But if the only way it can attack a terrorist organization is by acting unilaterally, even through clandestine means, it must do so.

Q: First goal I understand should be to identify the terrorists. Would you be in favor of launching a devastating retaliation against any such movement and any nation that provides them with shelter?

A: Yes.

Q: Second, the U.S. must act to turn homeland defense in a reality. How?

A: Coordinate the military reserves, National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Control immigration points more tightly. Pay greater attention to the security of ports and waterways. Enforce air defense intercept zones. Improve airport security. For a limited time, suspend the rules for wiretaps and mail searches by the FBI. Perhaps allow some military intelligence organizations to operate in the US.

Q: What would happen to the U.S. relation with the Arab countries and the Muslim countries in Asia if Washington attacks a Muslim country?

A: The Muslim countries of Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei) and the countries with large Muslim populations (India, Philippines, China, and Thailand), face similar problems. They must be made to understand clearly that the US has no desire to change their forms of government or religious beliefs. But the US (and the West) cannot tolerate armed attacks emanating from these countries or terrorists being trained there.

About the Author

Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy